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How to Propagate a Dragon Tree

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Mature, well-grown houseplants are not difficult or expensive to procure. But people still opt to propagate their plants and not outright purchase a new plant because the former is an even easier and cheaper option. Also, the feeling that you get from having created a new plant all by yourself can be extremely satisfying.

Want to know how to propagate a dragon tree? For dragon tree propagation, you must:

  • Chop up the plant’s sections – the stems.
  • Position each section’s base in a water vase and make it stand fairly upright.
  • Look for white nodules at the stem’s base. These nodules would grow into long roots.
  • Pot the stem sections with strong roots in individual containers.

You may even place the chopped stems into the soil. But since it’s your first time and water gives you a clearer picture, it’s recommended you go the water route. Keep reading if you’d like to learn more about propagating a dragon tree.

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

What Is Plant Propagation? 

Plant propagation basically means producing a fresh plant that has all the characteristics of the plant it’s taken from. Seed cultivation is the more conventional method to propagate a plant. The method is referred to as sexual propagation. Another route is vegetative or asexual propagation wherein various parts of a plant, such as its roots, leaf, and stem, are used.

Sexual propagation or seed-based propagation is pretty easy and effective too. Vegetative propagation, on the other hand, is an out-of-the-box approach and relatively complex. However, it bears fruits – in this case, new plants – fairly quickly. Also, certain trees or plants do not have seeds to facilitate sexual propagation. Examples include banana, jasmine, fig, and rose. For such plants, asexual is the way.

Why Should You Propagate a Plant? 

Cutting stems of a plant and propagating them helps with rejuvenating overgrown houseplants, like a dragon tree. The following are some of the major reasons why plant propagation is important:

  • Helps multiply the proliferation of a particular plant genus
  • Protects endangered plant species
  • Improves the quality and characteristics of the plants
  • Helps produce healthy and quality plants for commerce

Dragon trees are strikingly architectural. They almost never branch out, giving them a leaner look overall. With propagation, the plant could be cut at different heights, and the rooted cuttings can be planted back into the same pot as the primary plant to create an overall bushier effect. You may choose to have them in a pot of their own too.

Tools Needed to Propagate a Dragon Tree 

For successful propagation, you usually won’t require myriad complex tools. You can usually make do with:

  • A basic plant pot, or water jar with some water
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Some compost
  • Water jar with some water

Having said that, you increase the likelihood of a successful propagation by employing a few additional tools, such as a heat propagation mat and rooting hormone powder. Both encourage quicker root formation. You may use a rooting hormone before putting the cut stem for rooting. The hormone (powder or gel) will seal the chopped plant tissue and promote fresh root growth. 

These additional tools are pretty inexpensive, such as the Hydrofarm MT10006 that starts at $17.95. If you’d like us to suggest a solid rooting hormone powder, the Bonide BND925 will be our number one recommendation. Consider buying these extra tools only if you are planning to propagate more dragon trees or other plants going forward. Do not unnecessarily splurge if it’s going to be a one-time or short-term indulgence.

Cutting and Rooting a Dragon Tree 

To propagate your dragon tree, you would need to cut the plant in a way that the portion you cut out is its proper miniature. There are different ways to cut a plant for propagation, which include offsets, plantlets, leaf cuttings, cane and stem cuttings, seed sowing, division, and layering. 

Since a dragon tree has woody shrubs and is more ornamental in the way it looks, stem cutting is the technique to adopt. Each stem section of a dragon tree is capable of making its own roots under the right conditions.

The following are the steps involved in cutting and rooting a dragon tree:

  1. Choose a stem with no flowering. Your plant should have multiple stems and be in overall great condition so that the cutting doesn’t cause it any harm. It should also be free of diseases and insects.
  2. Do not cut the stem completely. The point at which you cut should be a few inches away from the stem’s base.
  3. Cut the stem at an angle so that you have a lot more rooting area.
  4. Also, the severed stem must be about 8 inches (approximately 20cm) long and have at least two to three leaves attached.
  5. The longer the stem, the better are the chances of regrowth. With a dragon tree, new leaves emerge at the upper nodes.
  6. If there are leaves too close to the base of the stem, remove them since they would wither away anyway.
  7. Use rooting hormone powder to dust the chopped end before rooting it. If you are not using the rooting hormone, put your cuttings into the pot or jar right away.
  8. The cuttings must be inserted gently into the soil or water immediately after you’ve cut them off.
  9. If the root has hormone covering, dig a small hole using a chopstick or pencil in the soil so that you could put the cutting into the soil without inadvertently knocking the hormone off.
  10. Push the cuttings upright into the soil or water and ensure the cane is pointing upwards.
  11. If the stem feels a bit weak or you have cut the stem a bit too long, support the stem with angled chopsticks or small rocks. Keep the conditions moist and provide indirect light to the baby plant at all times.  

If you cannot immediately plant the cut stem or were planning to do it later in the day, put those cuttings in a jar wrapped in some wet paper towels so that they stay moist until you get back and plant them.

Choosing the Stem for Cutting, and Actually Cutting It

The stem(s) you cut off should be softwood. In other words, it should not be “woody.” It must be ideally taken from the new branches of the main plant. The term “softwood” basically denotes the growth stage on a dragon tree that isn’t green or brand new, nor is it completely mature or brown. It’s somewhere in between the two stages. 

You can ascertain the same by bending the branch or stem. If it easily snaps, it’s ready for use. If it simply bends and is extremely flexible, it’s a bit too young and would likely rot before it could grow fresh roots. Similarly, if the stem is rigid or not flexible at all, it’s apparently too old and could be too slow to root. Also, look for shoots that aren’t too thin or thick. 

Most importantly, use the right pruning tools for the job. The tools should also be clean so that they do not transmit diseases to the healthy plants from the infected ones that they were in contact with. Sterilize your tools by dipping them in a mix of nine parts of water and one-part bleach. You may also sterilize your cutters or sharp knife with some rubbing alcohol, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide.

After the Cutting and Rooting 

Once your cuttings start to make roots – which could take up to 10 days (or longer) – you may replant them in a pot or separate container with moist potting soil.

However, before you take the cuttings out of the pot, make sure new roots have grown. To confirm, pull on the plants lightly, if you took the soil rooting approach. You know the cutting has started to make roots when you feel resistance. If the plant pops right out, it’s not done yet. 

Until the fresh plants can fully establish, keep a constant watch on the amount of light and moisture they receive. Remove diseased plants or dropped leaves from the region so that no fungus spreads to the healthy plants.

Kindly note, desired results are not guaranteed – even if you followed the instructions to the T.

A Few Other Things to Consider 

  • Cuttings and fresh plants would invariably require increased attention compared to the fully grown plants.
  • Always use fresh, clean water or fresh compost (soil) for rooting.
  • Make sure you take as many cuttings as you possibly could for the rooting since not all of them would root.
  • Keep the new plant warm, constantly exposing it to bright light. However, do not subject it to direct sunlight.
  • Do the propagating during summer or spring since dragon trees are in their vigorous growth phase during the two seasons and are also able to recover much quicker from cuts.

How to Use Rooting Hormone: Powder, Gel, or Liquid? 

As mentioned earlier, rooting hormones increase your chances of growing new plants from cuttings. The rooting additive would most likely keep sickly and yellow leaves out of the equation. Not to mention, your dragon tree cutting could require some outside help, based on the source plant’s health and the quality of the separated stem.

Generally, softwoods can do well without rooting hormones. However, if the stem being cut is hard or has already turned brown, some growth hormone would come in extremely handy. Rooting hormones are available in the powder, liquid, and gel form. If you’ve never used them before, you may not know which type to purchase.

Not to mention, your dragon plant tree cuttings would work with either of the three. You just need to know how to apply them properly.

Using Powdered Hormone

If using powdered rooting hormone, dunk the end of the cutting into a plate shallowly filled with the powder. When done, the root of your cutting must have a thin hormone film covering it.

Do not shake the powdered stem before you dip it into a water-filled jar or stick it into a pot of soil.

If pushing it into the soil, loose hormones (if any) would rub off and blend with the soil eventually. 

Using Liquid Hormone

If using liquid hormone, immerse the end of the cutting into a bowl or cup containing the hormone. The cutting should stay in for not more than a couple of seconds. If left immersed in for longer, the plant may absorb the hormone excessively, causing the plant stem to burn and/or the leaves to turn yellow.

Liquid rooting hormone is the strongest of the three, but getting the dosage right could be tricky. It’s a double-edged sword basically. 

Using Gel-Based Hormone 

A gel-based rooting hormone is arguably the easiest to use since the dosage can be easily measured, and the gel sticks to the cutting better than powdered rooting hormones do. The gel should cover at least 1/4th of an inch of the stem from its root. 

Rooting hormone gel works best with a rooting medium.

What is a rooting medium? Unlike dirt or soil, a rooting medium is a lighter substance that is a lot gentler on your plant cuttings. It’s a nutrient-rich substrate that comprises different minerals and organic components. It could be perlite, gardener’s sand, vermiculite, sphagnum moss, etc.

You can easily buy them online or at your local gardening store. 

PVP Industries Vermiculite is a solid option without any asbestos concerns. Mother Earth HGC714837 is a great perlite mixture for both outdoor and indoor gardens. If you want sphagnum moss, the Terrarium Sphagnum Moss by Galapagos is worth taking a look at.

Should You Root the Cuttings in Water or Compost? 

You can root a dragon tree using moist soil or clean water. Before you side with either of the two, you should know a thing or two about both the methods.

The Water Method 

People who like the water method do so because it’s not as messy and cumbersome as the soil technique if done right. There are a few other benefits to it as well, which include:

  • You can easily see your cuttings grow new roots in the jar. This means you need not resort to guesswork or pull at your cuts to confirm growth. Also, your cutting would stay hydrated in water.
  • If the stem starts to rot, you can take it out easily so that the other stems are protected.
  • Moving the water jar around or shifting its place is also convenient or much easier compared to carrying a jug or tiny pot with soil and the cutting.
  • For stems that are soft or can easily bend or droop, the water method is a lot more suitable. The dragon tree stem is fairly rigid. Stem-bending should, therefore, not be an issue with it.

Let’s talk about the drawbacks there are to the water method:

  • The cuttings could take a bit more time to grow roots in water.
  • Also, you risk letting the cuts stay in water for an extended time period, causing the miniature plant to believe it’s a water-based plant and not adapt to the soil when it’s time to shift.

There are some plants that can be rooted and could also completely grow in water. For such plants, the water rooting method is ideal. Unfortunately, one of those plants isn’t a dragon tree.

Having said that, you can certainly root your dragon tree cuttings in water. Just change the water once a week or two so that there is no fungus or bacteria buildup.

The Soil Technique 

Most plants grow in soil. The soil rooting method, therefore, feels a lot more natural and correct. It also has a few other things going for it.

  • As briefly alluded to above, plants grow significantly better in soil compared to water. If you believe your cuttings are not growing roots at the pace they should be, the soil treatment may make things better.
  • The plant is not forced to adjust to the soil after having rooted in water. This shift from water to soil may even cause the plant to die or not grow to its full potential.

However, the soil method, as mentioned above, entails some work. Procuring the pot, putting in the right kind of soil, carefully inserting the cutting into the soil, etc. is not as straightforward as it seems.

Though it’s all worth it in the end, all that initial work could repel some people away from the method.

Also, when using soil, it’s imperative to ensure the soil stays moist at all times. If not, the cuttings and their young roots could dry out and quit. 

Final Thoughts

Propagating a dragon tree, or any plant for that matter isn’t that simple. The things you need to do may not be that complex, but there are multiple factors that ascertain how well the cuttings do when separated from the primary plant. If you are trying to propagate your dragon tree for the first time, chances are you will fail miserably. 

But do not lose hope. Even expert plant propagators do fail every now and again as there are so many variables at play. And most of them are not within your control. If you’ve decided to propagate your dragon tree, you are contributing to the health of the environment, which is a great thing. But just because the deed is good, it doesn’t mean a successful outcome is guaranteed. The key lies in persisting.

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